Verizon Helps Florida Callers Hang Up On Confusing Long Distance Bills

NEW YORK - Confusing long distance bills are now history thanks to new technology from Verizon Long Distance.

With SmartTouchsm, an innovative long distance product, consumers buy long distance time in advance with their credit cards and deposit the time into their SmartTouch home phone line account. Since customers set their own spending level, they know exactly what they are paying for each long distance call and never have to see a monthly bill. And there are no extra digits to dial like "10-10" dial-around services or prepaid calling cards.

Bottom line: SmartTouch gives consumers complete control over their long distance spending and lets them pay when they are ready, not when the long distance company tells them to.

"SmartTouch is the first truly innovative approach to long distance in years," said Maura Breen, group president - Verizon Long Distance. "SmartTouch puts consumers in charge when it comes to managing their long distance spending. Plus, we are giving consumers a great rate with no hidden fees. It doesn't get any simpler."

Verizon Long Distance is a subsidiary of Verizon Communications, which was formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE.

SmartTouch customers pay a low flat rate of just eight-cents-a-minute for state-to-state, direct-dialed calls from home with no monthly plan fees. Long distance direct-dialed calls within Florida are 11 cents a minute, anytime. The eight and 11-cent rates include all
government-required taxes and surcharges, including state sales tax.

How SmartTouch Works

Keeping track of calling time and expense is easy with SmartTouch, which uses patent-pending technology. A voice prompt at the beginning of each long distance call says exactly how much money is in the customer's account and the number of minutes available for the call. A prompt at the end of the call gives the customer the remaining balance in dollars. Only the customer can hear the account status information on the call. Customers also can dial "0-0" (zero, zero) from their home phone to get an account balance anytime, day or night.

For example, a customer who purchases $10 of calling time in advance places a direct-dialed long distance call from Florida to New York at eight cents a minute. After dialing the phone number, the customer hears the SmartTouch voice prompt say there is $10 in their account and 125 minutes available for the call ($10 divided by .08 cents per minute equals 125 minutes).

Once the called party hangs up, the voice prompt reports how much money remains in the account for the next call. So in this case, if the call lasted 25 minutes, the customer would have $8 left.

A voice prompt during the call alerts customers when their account balance is getting low. SmartTouch money remains in the account until the customer spends it.

SmartTouch gives customers round-the-clock access to their account balance and call activity via www.mysmarttouch.com or by dialing "0-0" from their home phone. Customers can add more time to their account 24 hours a day via credit card by dialing "0-0" and following the voice prompts or by calling Bell Atlantic customer service at 1-888-599-0107. All purchases are posted to the customer's account immediately, so there is no waiting time before making calls.

In coming months, consumers will be able to set up automatic payments to their SmartTouch account on the first of the month or every time the account reaches a certain balance.

SmartTouch also has a feature that allows customers to place calls from a pay phone, by dialing an 800 number and entering their phone number and a secure PIN (personal identification number). These state-to-state, direct-dialed calls are 25 cents per minute. The amount of the calls is deducted from the customer's SmartTouch account just like calls they place from home. But unlike many calling card plans offered by other major long distance companies, SmartTouch does not add a per-call service charge to its away-from-home feature - even if the call is placed from a pay phone.

SmartTouch Has Broad Appeal

SmartTouch appeals to household managers, international callers, people on fixed incomes - literally anyone looking to get a handle on monthly expenses. To order the service, customers can visit Verizon's SmartTouch Web site at www.getsmarttouch.com or call toll-free 1-800-552-5133.

Household managers - SmartTouch enables household managers to manage their long distance budget for the entire month. Best of all, you pay when you are ready to pay, not when the long distance company tells you to pay.

Retired/fixed income households - Living on a fixed income can mean cutting back on household expenses, including phone calls to loved ones. SmartTouch means you are never caught off guard by surprises on your phone bill.

International callers - Frequent calls abroad can mean out-of-control long distance phone bills, but not with SmartTouch. By purchasing long distance in advance, you can take advantage of the some of the best international rates advertised by any major carrier.

Customers managing credit - SmartTouch enables families and individuals managing their credit to get long distance service without paying a hefty deposit. With SmartTouch, anyone can get great rates by depositing money in their account.

Visually impaired - With SmartTouch, callers hear their account balance before a call is placed and, during the call, a voice prompt tells them when their balance is getting low.

Verizon is exploring new and creative ways to educate consumers about SmartTouch. An initial element of the company's strategy is its marketing agreement with iVillage.com, the Internet's leading women's network. As part of the relationship, SmartTouch information will appear in targeted iVillage.com Web pages that focus on parenting, money matters, working from home and managing debt.

International Rates Rival AT&T's 'One Rate'

SmartTouch offers great rates for Florida customers who frequently make international calls. The per-minute rates are available anytime, day or night, are not promotional or short term and have no monthly fees.

SmartTouch offers a low eight-cent a minute rate for direct-dialed calls to Puerto Rico, Canada and the United Kingdom. Other examples include: 14 or 30 cents to Mexico (depending on where you call); 14 cents to Hong Kong; 15 cents to Japan and South Korea; 16 cents to Taiwan; 23 cents to the Dominican Republic; 26 cents to Brazil; 29 cents to Columbia and 30 cents to China. And like the domestic rates, SmartTouch international rates include government-required fees and taxes, including state sales tax.

Since there are no extra digits to dial, Smarttouch customers who used to use "10-10" dial around numbers or prepaid cards for international calls can now simply pick up the phone and dial "011" and the country code plus the number to make calls at very competitive rates. In fact, SmartTouch rates are priced below AT&T's "One Rate International Value Plan" for a majority of the most frequently called countries.

Latest Innovation from Verizon

SmartTouch is the brainchild of Verizon Communications and United States Advanced Network, Inc., an intelligent network and enhanced voice services provider based in Atlanta, Ga.

In March, Verizon introduced its popular e-Valuessm Calling Plan which offers some Florida consumers dramatic savings on state-to-state calls compared to heavily advertised plans offered by major long distance companies.

E-Values is available to consumers who sign up at the Verizon long distance Web site, www.callbell.com. Florida customers pay only five cents a minute on weekends and nine cents a minute during the week for state-to-state, direct-dialed calls from home. In-state long distance calls are five cents a minute on weekends and 13 cents a minute during the week.

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ), formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with more than 100 million access line equivalents and 25.6 million wireless customers. A Fortune 10 company with more than 260,000 employees and approximately $60 billion in 1999 revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.